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Human rights in employment: Definitions, applications, and future prospects

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Followed by a Wine Reception right after the talk

Much of the discourse about human rights in employment has focused on the developing world, often suggesting that frameworks and institutions that protect employees in developed countries can be transplanted to the developing world. However, many critical observers of employment practices in the developed world have proposed that for many employees—especially those who are perceived by employers to lack rare and valuable skills—respect for human rights in employment has declined. Increasingly the labor market can be bifurcated into two segments: employees whose skills allow them some degree of market power and ability to negotiate with employers about the terms of employment, and employees whose skills are perceived to be commodities and thus are subject to “contracts of adhesion” that they can either accept or reject but not change or negotiate.

I will first review some of the key issues related to human rights in employment, focusing on the specification of hypernorms that are applicable to all employment relationships, and analyze how changes in employment practices have worked to the detriment of employees and respect for their rights. I will then discuss the different types of employment relationships that can be observed with reference to two factors: perceived skill level of the employee and level of attachment (high or low) to the ultimate employer from the ultimate employer’s perspective. Based on the identification of hypernorms and the different types of employment relationships, I will conclude by discussing the different sorts of institutional structures—including industry groupings, multilateral institutions, and networks of non-governmental organizations—that might have positive effects on respect for human rights in employment and the prospects for the development of these structures.

Chair of the event: Prof Simon Deakin (Law/Judge Business School)

This talk is part of the CISA Talks - Cambridge International Studies Association series.

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